Future Now

Google is developing augmented reality glasses that will layer information over your view of the world around you. By the end of the year, people on the streets may be donning thick rimmed sunglasses equipped with a small video camera, and wireless network access. The glasses will display text and graphics on the lenses to provide information about objects you are looking at. No doubt some of that information will include ads.
Google Goggles, Virtual Reality [NYTimes]
Google to Sell Heads-Up Display Glasses by Year’s End [NYTimes]
Google Planning Data-Display Glasses [NewsFactor]

Apps and App Stores

App stores and marketplaces are transforming the way developers interact with users, and the way users find and acquire software. The iTunes app store and the Android Marketplace each boast hundreds of thousands of apps. Apple just purchased a company by the name of Chomp that should help Apple users find useful apps hidden like needles in a haystack. A new study released by Canalys found that on average iPhone apps are significantly less expensive than Android apps. The average price of Android Market’s top 100 is $3.74 per Android app, vs. $1.47 per iPhone app in the iTunes App Store. Meanwhile, Mozilla, maker of the popular Firefox browser, is planning to open its own app store. The Mozilla Marketplace will feature apps that will run on any platform in any browser that supports HTML 5. The latest version of HTML supports all kinds of application development in the browser including games, media, music, productivity and others.

The Ever Crowding Airwaves

A Cisco Systems report predicts that mobile data traffic will grow 110 percent this year, and at a compound annual growth rate of 78 percent through 2016. “By 2016, 60 percent of mobile users — 3 billion people worldwide — will belong to the ‘Gigabyte Club’ — each generating more than 1 gigabyte of mobile data traffic per month,” Cisco Systems Vice President Suraj Shetty said. As if to back up Cisco’s prediction, Gartner reported that Smartphone sales grew a whopping 47 percent in the 4th quarter of 2011. It seems unlikely that cellular service providers, who are already complaining about “data hogs” and overuse of their data networks, will be able to cope with demand doubling every year. Fortunately, there is a bill making its way to President Obama’s desk that will allow wide swaths of the wireless spectrum, previously used for broadcast TV, to be auctioned off to cellular companies. The President is expected to sign the legislation. The availability of more spectrums will help, but will it be enough?

2011 in Retrospect

Goodbye Steve

Perhaps the story that garnered the most attention this year was the death of Apple founder and visionary Steve Jobs who succumbed to pancreatic cancer at the age of 56. Jobs transformed industries and lives be developing products like iTunes, iPods, iPhones, and iPads. For the past decade, the public has grown to expect yearly life-changing product announcements from Apple. This year, Jobs and Apple unveiled the iPhone 4S with Siri – digital assistant technology that promises to transform the way people interact with computers. This year Apple also launched iCloud, a system for storing music and data in the cloud for easy access from any Internet-connected computer.

2011 in the Cloud

History may look back on 2011 as “the year of cloud computing.” Apple wasn’t alone in developing cloud services. Just about every major tech company rolled out new cloud services this year. Amazon and Google, which have both been active in cloud computing for years, rolled out public cloud services for music to compete with Apple. Microsoft launched Office 365, a cloud-based version of Microsoft Office to compete with Google Docs. Businesses of all types and sizes are adopting both public and private cloud services for all types of business applications and services. This year has seen the start of a massive migration of data from private computers and servers to cloud servers to be accessed via the Internet.

Hackers

2011 also goes down in history for its huge amount of hacker activity. Daily targeted attacks increased four hundred percent over 2011. Nearly every form of networked device is at risk: computers, cars, smart phones, and even printers. Several major network and database breaches made the news this year. Perhaps the largest was Sony’s PlayStation network which was out of commission for over a month. More serious was the attack on security firm RSA, where security tokens for hundreds of companies were stolen leaving those companies vulnerable to attack. Many other companies and organizations were hacked in 2011. The Privacy Clearinghouse has tracked a total of 535 breaches in the U.S. involving 30.4 million sensitive records over the course of the year. In 2011 we also learned that some news organizations, such as one belonging to Richard Murdock, have a habit of hacking cell phones to gain juicy tidbits of news. News companies have also been the target of hackers as both Fox News and NPR were hacked and had bogus news stories posted on their Twitter feeds and Web sites. The past year saw the birth of a dangerous virus named stuxnet, that attacks industrial systems. We have also witnessed the rise of hactivist groups such as Anonymous, LulzSec, and AntiSec. These groups claimed responsibility for breaking into the networks belonging to hundreds of businesses, law enforcement agencies, and government agencies, including the FBI and U.S. defense contractors, and releasing confidential data for what they consider to be a righteous cause. Dozens of young hackers have been jailed for their participation in these hacker collectives.

Cyber Attacks

2011 has also seen a huge increase in state-sponsored cyber attacks including attacks on government agencies, U.S. defense contractors, and banks, not to mention one drone aircraft. U.S. intelligence agencies accuse China and Russia for many of the cyber attacks. The pentagon has designated cyberspace as an “operational domain” and threatens a military response to cyber attacks. The White house passed a new cyber security plan to help protect the nations critical infrastructure. But, it’s not just the U.S. that is concerned, every country on the Internet is dealing with cyber attacks and working to bolster their defenses. At the global Web Summit, nations deliberated over a cyber-nonproliferation pact to assist in curbing cyber-attacks between countries.

Social and Political Change

In 2011 the Internet and social media served as powerful tools for social and political change. Protest organizers in Egypt utilized Facebook, Twitter, and other online tools to gather public discontent into demonstrations that eventually ousted then-President Mubarik. The revolution fever spread through Internet channels to Tunisia, Libya, Bahrain, Syria, Yemen, Algeria, Iraq, Jordon, Kuwait, Moroco, and Oman where citizens took to the streets to demonstrate their dissatisfaction with their governments in what has become known as the Arab Spring. The Web is being used to coordinate protests across the U.S., and around the world. stemming from the Occupy Wall Street movement, to express discontent with economic management by banks and governments. In the UK, the Web was used to orchestrate violent demonstrations featuring beatings, arson and burglaries across many cities including Liverpool, Manchester, Birmingham and Bristol.

Censorship

As the Internet and Web empowers citizens to organize and express themselves, governments this year, are debating an Internet “kill switch” that would allow them to shut down the Internet in circumstances of public unrest. Egypt, and other Arab countries have implemented such actions during demonstrations, but still the demonstrators found ways around the Internet black-out to communicate their plight to the rest of the world. In other censorship news, U.S. lawmakers deliberate over the controversial Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) which would allow the U.S. Department of Justice to seek court orders requiring Internet Service Providers, search engines, and online financial services to block websites that are accused of infringing copyright. Some feel the bill represents the first significant step towards U.S. government censorship of Web content.

Privacy and Transparency

Privacy and transparency were huge issues in 2011. Wikileaks released hundreds of thousands of leaked confidential government documents to the public. In reaction to the move, several online banks and financial services have blocked Wikileaks transactions, leaving Wikileaks financially strapped and struggling. Google and Facebook have both been scrutinized and criticized by European and U.S. governments for collecting private data about users and using it for marketing and ads. Both companies are under mandatory privacy audits in the U.S. for the next 20 years. The U.S. is considering regulations to curb Internet companies from tracking users online, while the industry has come up with its own “Do Not Track” option which no company seems to be implementing with any seriousness. Cell phone companies have also been the focus of government attention as it was discovered that many handsets regularly send private usage data to the cellular providers. Net neutrality also remains a hotly debated issue, as the FCC put new policies in place that require telecom companies and ISP’s to be more transparent about their network management practices and to provide equal treatment to all Internet applications.

Mobile Tech Industry

It was an active year for the tech industry with many shifts in power and influence. 2011 was the year of the tablet. While Apple’s iPad remains the market leader, dozens of Android tablets are now also competing in the market. High-end eBook readers like Amazon’s Kindle Fire and the Nook Tablet incorporate LCD displays and offer added functionality to compete with tablet PCs at a lower price. The success of the Kindle, has contributed to the success of eBooks. Amazon reports that it now sells more ebooks than paper books. The cellular industry has seen major shifts as well. At the beginning of 2011, AT&T held an exclusive contract with Apple for the iPhone. Now Verizon and Sprint share that privilege. The iPhone remains the most popular smart phone, however, Android has become the most popular smartphone platform due to the many inexpensive Android handsets available. AT&T’s bid to buy TMobile was shut down by government regulators. Verizon and AT&T are buying up spectrum in competition to provide the best service to the most customers.

Entertainment Tech Industry

3D TV’s still haven’t really taken off like expected, but Microsoft’s Kinect and XBox game system have been a huge success in living room entertainment. The Kinect’s motion-driven game controller has transformed gaming into a physical activity. Dance games have become all the rage displacing the previously popular guitar playing games. Speaking of living room entertainment, Netflix grew huge in 2011 with Netflix users eating up as much as one third of all Internet traffic. Netflix blew it though, when it nearly doubled its fees, and lost hundreds of thousands of customers. In the mean time, Google, Microsoft, and Apple all have plans to take over TV and living room entertainment.

Winners and Losers

2011 has seen renewed investment in the tech industry allowing young companies like Groupon and Spotify to rapidly grow into major players. Meanwhile established companies work hard to stay relevant by using their talent and market position to control the direction of the industry. Google launched its social network Google+, providing the first serious competitor to Facebook. Google+ is growing rapidly, with 62 million current users. Some believe it will grow to 400 million in 2012 – still significantly shy of Facebook’s current 800 million users. Companies like Google, Amazon and Apple have been successful at ininnovating and staying relevant against fresh young talent, while Microsoft, Yahoo, and Blackberry have been less successful. 2012 will be a telling year for many of these companies.

2012 and Beyond

2011 has been a remarkable year for those of us that enjoy observing technology’s impact on people, cultures, societies, and the world. So what can we expect in 2012? Well it’s all conjecture, but I think it’s safe to assume that information security, privacy, net neutrality and government censorship will grow to become more demanding issues. The rapid rise in serious cyber attacks from numerous sources makes it seem likely that 2012 will feature prominent and perhaps catastrophic attacks on major online resources, and national infrastructure. There is likely to be a call-to-cyberarms as governments and populations recognize the extent of their online vulnerabilities. With the stressed state of the global economy and the upcoming national elections in the U.S., our online lifestyles are sure to become the focus of political expression from politicians, their supporters, and disgruntled citizens and groups. While there are a lot of indicators to fuel pessimism for 2012, there are also many indicators that support optimism. Technologies continue to evolve to provide better communication, more rapid problem solving, and more engaging forms of expression and entertainment. Without a doubt, 2012 will bring many new technologies with which we can improve our lives and our world. Technology does more than merely amplify the human condition; it provides opportunity and freedom of expression for populations that have been downtrodden and oppressed. It is the great equalizer. It provides opportunities to advance civilization and culture. It is likely that we will continue to see radical global change brought about with the help of technologies in 2012 and beyond. Managing this change in a positive direction will require strong and wise global leadership from political leaders, as well as from teachers and students like you.

iPhone Biometrics

Dozens of police departments around the country will soon begin using iPhones to identify criminals and suspects. The Mobile Offender Recognition and Information System, or MORIS, snaps onto an iPhone to acquire retinal scans and face scans that can be quickly compared to a database of criminal photos. The technique is said to be much more accurate than traditional finger-printing technologies. Some privacy advocates are concerned that the technology may be abused.
Police to begin iPhone iris scans amid privacy concerns [Reuters]

VoiceMail Hacking

The Rupert Murdock story remained page one news around the world this week, as Murdock himself testified that he had no knowledge of the illegal practices carried out by some of his news publications, and would punish those responsible. You probably know by now, that all the fuss began when it was discovered that one of Murdock’s British tabloids hacked into cell phone voice mail accounts to gather information for stories. Since the original story broke, allegations have spread to other Murdock publications, and have shined a spotlight on a variety of questionable journalism practices.

The story has also raised awareness regarding information system vulnerabilities. It turns our that hacking voice mail is easy on some major telecom networks. In fact,all users who are able to access voicemail without typing in a PIN code are at risk. In the U.S., this includes users of AT&T, T-Mobile, and Sprint. Free and easy online software is available that allows anyone to spoof a phone number from these carriers and listen to voice mail messages.

In a related story, The Murdock story was apparently too much of a temptation for the previously defunct hacker group LulzSec. The group came out of retirement to hack Rupert Murdoch’s News International Website and redirect visitors to a bogus news story that claimed Murdoch was dead.

Apple’s New Cloud

This week Apple unveiled the long anticipated iCloud at its World Wide Developers Conference. The new cloud computing platform is similar to recent cloud music services from Google and Amazon, but goes several steps further. Users of iCloud will be able to store not only music, but all kinds of data and apps on Apple’s Web servers, to be shared across devices. iCloud takes advantage of Apple’s new unified OS X Lion, scheduled to be released next month, to allow users to have a common computing experience across all of their devices. Using iCloud, all of your apps, music, movies, photos, books, email, contacts, calendars, and data files are stored on the Web, and pushed to each of your devices. Users will no longer need to purchase multiple versions of an app for each of their devices. One copy of an app will come with a license that covers up to ten devices. The service also runs on Windows PCs through iTunes. The New York Times suggests that iCloud is the beginning of the end for PCs, and the birth of true cloud-based personal computing. iCloud is scheduled to be released this Fall. Microsoft and Google are both working to offer similar cloud services.

As users migrate to the cloud, they will have to commit to one vendor for storing their data and media. That vendor will most likely be Apple, Microsoft, Google, or perhaps even Facebook. As the cloud era arrives there are several important issues that should concern users. What happens if you are unhappy with your cloud service? Can you easily move your data to a different vendor’s cloud? Also, who is responsible for the safety of your data? How will Apple and the others compensate users for the loss of data? How about privacy and security? Can the vendor monitor what you store in its cloud, like Google monitors gmail, and Facebook monitors user profiles? These are issues that are already important and will certainly become critically important in coming months and years as cloud computing becomes the norm.

SmartPhones That Know Where You’ve Been

Apple came under fire this week, when it was discovered that iPhones continuously log users’ locations and store them in an unencrypted file on the device. Pete Warden, one of the researchers presenting the finding, told news media that Apple “has made it possible for almost anybody” who could get access to your smartphone or computer to find out where you’ve been. The location data, stored as a sequence of time stamped latitude and longitude values, is copied into iTunes, and uploaded to Apple.

Upon deeper inspection, it was discovered that Android devices do essentially the same thing, sending user location data to Google. Both companies claim that the data is collected anonymously. Google claims that users are made aware that the data is being collected. The apparent disregard for user privacy has motivated the U.S. Congress and the European Union to stand up and take notice. It is likely that Apple and Google will have to answer some tough questions about their business practices.

President Obama’s Wireless Expansion Plan

President Obama has released a Wireless Expansion plan which promises to provide 98 percent of Americans with high-speed Internet access by 2021. The plan is also intended to create jobs, drive research, and boost the economy by providing more Americans with the benefits of Internet access. The plan will free up an additional 400 MHz of the radio spectrum for mobile broadband use. The additional spectrum will be auctioned off to raise an estimated $27.8 billion. That money will fund 4G networks in rural areas, research and development in 4G technologies, and a wireless public safety network.

iPhone Finally Comes to Verizon

Some stories are so big, that talking about them even a few days after they occur seems like your reporting old news. Last Monday Verizon announced that it would begin selling the iPhone. The news was so big that every major news organization was spotlighting it within minutes of the announcement and continued hashing it out throughout the week until most of us are tired of hearing about it.

Some are wondering what all the excitement is about. Well it is big news for the industry, and its a mighty big industry. The iPhone coming to Verizon is nearly as big a story as when the original iPhone was release. Unlike its original release, today the public knows what a huge success and major game-changer the iPhone is. Until now, only AT&T has been able to sell the iPhone in the U.S, and still the iPhone has become the number 1 selling smart phone in the country. Now, just when Android phones are catching up with the iPhone in market share, the iPhone is released to much of the remaining population. This poses a number of questions. How successful will the iPhone be on Verizon? How many users will leave AT&T and switch to Verizon? How long before the iPhone is released to other carriers like TMobile and Sprint?

The iPhone 4 that was released on AT&T’s GSM network last summer had to be redesigned to run on Verizon’s CDMA network. While data plan prices have not yet been announced, Verizon is advertising that the iPhone will support mi-fi functionality, allowing several computesr to wirelessly connect to the Internet through the handset’s cellular connection. Still there’s one drawback. CDMA networks don’t support data and voice simultaniously, so Verizon users will have to log off the Internet to accept phone calls.

With both AT&T and Verizon busy rolling outLTE 4G networks, many speculate that the next iPhone will be designed for the much faster 4G networks. We’ll find out soon enogh when the iPhone 5 is released next summer.